NEW YORK (CNNfn) - When a small group of Morgan Stanley employees allegedly e-mailed a series of racially offensive jokes in October 1995, some minority workers didn't laugh.
Instead, they filed a multi-million lawsuit against the company, charging racial discrimination.
The case raises several issues, including one crucial question -- what are companies to do about e-mail?
Morgan Stanley says that soon after receiving complaints about the offensive e-mail, the investment bank disciplined employees involved in sending it.
But plaintiffs' lawyer Kevin Mosley countered that the e-mail "circulated on (Morgan Stanley's) network for days. ... If they allow users unfettered access to the network, they have to monitor to make sure that discriminatory or other derogatory information is not passed over that network."
Yet for the American Civil Liberties Union, employer eavesdropping represents a troubling issue, even though U.S. laws allow businesses to treat e-mails and computer records as company property.
Lewis Maltby, director of the ACLU's Workplace Civil Liberties project, argues that rather than requiring companies to screen employee e-mails, "the employer ought to be given the benefit of the doubt here if they have acted in a reasonable way."